Thursday, August 2, 2012

Malevolent Design

Evolution News and Views has a Drew Berry TED Talk notable not only for the beauty of his art but also for its philosophical implications.

Berry is a biologist and computer animator and the structures and processes his videos illustrate are breathtaking. This particular video is also interesting, though, because the last couple of minutes shows via animation how malaria infects a human body. In my opinion, this animation poses difficulties for both creationists and Darwinian naturalists.
The creationist has a problem because he wants to say that an omnibenevolent God designed this, but if so why would a good God design such a manifestly horrible organism as the malaria parasite? The creationist may have an answer, to be sure, but the fact that he needs to answer this question suggests that his theory doesn't neatly accommodate phenomena such as this. Moreover, his answer may sound contrived or ad hoc to some.

The problem for the Darwinian naturalist is trying to come up with a plausible pathway by which the parasite and its behavior might have evolved solely by chance. Any explanation the naturalist proffers sounds like just so much pixie dust and magic wand waving.

The advocate of intelligent design, however, has no problem with this at all. Philosopher David Hume argued in his book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion that the existence of such organisms as the malaria parasite is strong evidence against the existence of a benevolent designer, but even if the designer is malevolent it's still an intelligent designer. Once it's accepted that the universe does indeed seem to be the product of intelligent agency then the discussion can move on to questions about the nature of that agent. In other words, the biological world certainly appears to be designed, just as the intelligent design theorist postulates, but whether the designer is benevolent or malevolent is not something upon which the ID advocate, qua scientist/philosopher, takes a stand.

Most IDers would, in their personal lives, seek to offer a theodicy similar to that of the creationist, but the important point is that ID, as a scientific or philosophical hypothesis, doesn't rely on any such theodicy being offered because it makes no claim as to the identity or moral nature of the designer. It merely makes this simple assertion: the world, both physical and biological, shows manifest evidence of having been intelligently designed. That some designs appear to be malicious is no more an argument against the design hypothesis than is the belief that nuclear weapons are horrible an argument against their having been designed.

Anyway, watch the video and marvel at what you see.

So Why Did He Do It?

Mona Charen reminds us of the climate of opinion surrounding the welfare reform debate in 1996. It's worth remembering:
Once safely elected, Clinton downgraded welfare reform, and, in fact, increased funding for all of the traditional welfare programs in the federal budget. But when Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994, they took the initiative. By 1996, after vetoing two welfare reform bills, Clinton was advised by Dick Morris that if didn't sign the legislation, he wouldn't be re-elected; it was that important to voters. Immediately after signing the bill, Clinton's approval rating on welfare jumped by 19 points.

The law changed the old AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, to TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. In place of the open-ended entitlement to benefits for unmarried women and their children, the law imposed a five-year limit and the requirement that those able to work seek employment. In 2005, the work requirements were strengthened.

The prospect of asking welfare recipients to seek work struck most liberals in 1996 (including Obama) as degrading, cruel and doomed to failure. Three high-ranking Clinton administration officials resigned in protest. The New York Times called the reform "atrocious," objecting that "This is not reform, this is punishment." Tom Brokaw, interviewing the president, said "all the projections show that ... (the reform) will push, at least short term, more than a million youngsters ... below the poverty line." The Children's Defense Fund called the law "an outrage ... that will hurt and impoverish millions of American children ... and leave a moral blot on (Clinton's) presidency." Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan called the law "the most brutal act of social policy we have known since the Reconstruction. ... In five years' time, you'll find appearing on your streets abandoned children ... in numbers we have no idea." Sen. Edward Kennedy, with characteristic understatement, called the bill "legislative child abuse."

Well, what really happened? Welfare caseloads declined by 50 percent within four years of the law's passage and by 70 percent by the time Obama took office. The overwhelming majority of those who left welfare rolls did so because they found jobs -- and not just the worst jobs, either. By 2001, a Manhattan Institute study found, only 4 percent of former welfare mothers were earning minimum wage. The poverty rate declined from 13.8 percent in 1995 to 11.7 percent in 2003. Black child poverty dropped to its lowest levels in history. Childhood hunger was cut in half. It was the greatest social policy success of the past 50 years.
Sounds like just the sort of success story that both liberals and conservatives would want to take credit for, so why did President Obama undermine this manifestly successful program by issuing an executive order negating the work requirement? Charen thinks it's part of his plan to increase dependency on government:
Obama is trying to persuade Americans that while he has expanded food stamps to unprecedented levels, extended unemployment insurance to 99 weeks, vastly increased the already overwhelmed Medicaid program, created a new trillion dollar entitlement with Obamacare and expanded the size of the federal government to a percentage of gross domestic product not seen since World War II, that he is not the dependency president. [But] by stepping back into history to embrace the Democrats' nemesis -- unrestricted welfare -- he has clinched the argument for the opposition.
Some have suggested that what Mr. Obama is doing is reestablishing a kind of plantation slave culture, making the people on the government plantation completely dependent on the government for their every need. I don't think the comparison works, though. The slaves on the plantation at least were required to work.